Thomas Wolfe

Writer

Born: 3 October 1900
Died: 15 September 1938
Birthplace: Asheville, North Carolina
Best known as: The author of Look Homeward, Angel
Thomas Clayton Wolfe was an American writer from North Carolina known for his autobiographical novels, especially Look Homeward, Angel and You Can't Go Home Again. He grew up in rural North Carolina in a family of characters and hard luck, and that's what he wrote about. He graduated from the University of North Carolina (1920) and went off to Harvard with a yearning to be a playwright. After graduating Harvard with a master's degree (1923), Wolfe worked as a teacher and travelled, eventually turning from writing plays to constructing what would end up being four epic autobiographical novels loaded with detail about American life. Look Homeward, Angel (1929) was the first to be published. Wolfe, who'd cranked out hundreds of thousands of pages, relied heavily on editor Maxwell Perkins (of Scribner's) to shape his work into a novel, a pattern that was to hold true throughout his literary career. During the 1930s Wolfe spent his time between New York and Europe, still writing about his life and carrying on a love affair with an older, married woman. His second novel, Of Time and the River, was published in 1935. By this time he'd earned fame and riches and was ranked as literary equal to contemporaries F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Ever the wanderer, Wolfe took a tour of the western U.S. in 1938, eventually making his way north to Canada, where he became ill with what was thought to be influenza. Two months later he was dead from a lung infection that had spread to his brain. After his death his work was organized and published into two more novels, The West and The Rock (1939) and You Can't Go Home Again (1940), and a book of stories, The HIlls Beyond (1942).
Extra credit: Wolfe was unusually tall -- they say he was 6' 5"... His autobiographical protagonist in his early novels is Eugene Gant, whose hometown is "Altamont," a thinly-veiled reference to Wolfe's hometown of Asheville... The title Look Homeward, Angel is said to be from the John Milton poem Lycidas.

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